Panic buttons, locked doors could be required in Texas schools

Meghan Mangrum
The Dallas Morning News (TNS)

DALLAS — Texas schools would need silent panic buttons in classrooms and two-way emergency radios on campus under a new proposed state rule.

The proposed school safety standards rule would also require that all doors and windows that lead into school buildings are locked and monitored.

The Texas Education Agency released the specifics of the proposed rule Thursday. The proposal is the latest effort to beef up school safety in the wake of Texas’ deadliest school shooting that killed 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde in May.

In the days following the shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the agency and education commissioner Mike Morath to develop safety rules for school buildings, including the enforcement of weekly door inspections to ensure they close and lock.

In the coming weeks, school districts can apply for grants from the agency for spending on various security-related costs over the next two years and/or toward the installment of silent panic alert technology this year, according to the agency’s guidance.

Grant funds will be awarded using a per-pupil count, but districts will receive at least $200,000 to ensure small rural districts can also tackle infrastructure costs.

The panic alert technology generally would allow campus staff to manually press a button or use a software application to signal a life-threatening emergency, such as an active shooter or intruder.

The system, which can already be found in some banks and hospitals, should also notify administrators and emergency responders of the threat.

Districts would also be required to conduct twice-yearly maintenance checks on two-way radio systems used by school administrators and staff to ensure the radios work inside buildings and can communicate with law enforcement and first responders.
Poor radio communications are among the concerns raised about how law enforcement handled the May 24 shooting in Uvalde and why they didn’t confront the gunman for more than an hour.

Pete Arredondo, former police chief for the Uvalde school district, has said that even before the May shooting, he knew police radios often didn’t work inside schools.

The agency’s proposed rule also outlines how often maintenance must be performed on doors, windows and communication systems as well as how administrators should report noncompliance.

The shooter in Uvalde gained access to Robb Elementary through an unlocked exterior door, although it’s not clear how the door was able to be opened.

In June, TEA issued new safety guidance outlining the process for exterior door checks and directed school districts to convene their safety and security committees to review their safety plans.

Since then, Abbott also announced the hiring of John Scott, a former U.S. Secret Service agent, to serve as the agency’s new chief of school safety and security and oversee Texas’ school safety efforts.

Earlier this month, Abbott and other Republican legislative leaders shifted $775 million to border security and school safety, including $400 million to assist school districts in replacing or upgrading doors, windows, fencing, communication tools and other safety measures.
As school officials want heightened security, the need for additional funding to cover the severe costs is high.

Building designs and age vary greatly, with many campuses more than 50 years old. Some campuses may not have security vestibules, modern door locks or other technology systems that have increasingly been championed amid the spike in school shootings.

Federal officials also recently granted nearly $94 million to Texas schools to support community partnerships and provide students with safer and healthier learning environments.

Members of the public can weigh in on the proposed rule from Nov. 11 to Dec. 12, before a final version is submitted to the Texas Registrar. If adopted, the rule would go into effect within two days of submission.
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